Review From The Cellar

Some time ago I had the pleasure of reviewing a very special cookbook, written and compiled by  Dancing Chef, Natasha MacAller. The book was called Vanilla Table. As it happened, Natasha was visiting Vancouver, and I met with her at the Granville Island Hotel.

The Wonderful Women Vancouver Network held our first fall social event on Tuesday evening this week, previous annual events having been held in the spring. The location for our Wonderful Women Welcome Winter event was the Lounge and Bar at the Granville Island Hotel. Amanda and I took our water ferry across to Granville Island and met Cathy, our co-organizer, to get set up and meet the staff who would be facilitating the event.

The challenge: Oven roasted chicken or rotisserie chicken, which is better? I acquired a Deni Vertical Rotisserie a while ago but had not got around to using it. My daughter pointed out that she had happy childhood memories of my oven roasted chicken dinners and wondered how rotisserie roasted chicken could possibly be better. We had two organic free range chicken to cook so voila- this was a perfect time to compare the two methods.

Among the many Mediterranean dips like humus and tsaztiki, my two favorites are taramasalata and babaganoush. I've experimented with making my own taramasalata but it just does not compare with the one from The Greek by Anatoli. Picking up a takeout container of taramasalata has become my current guilty pleasure.

With the plethora of awesome restaurants within walking distance of my home, I generally don't go twice to the same place within a few weeks, and I had just recently enjoyed a Kampachi dinner with friends, at Provence Marinaside. But my family visitors wanted to do brunch, and I had not had brunch at Provence in ages. So off we went, 5 adults, two kids and a baby in stroller.

Two years ago I was in Honolulu for a dance competition and took advantage of my brief time there to check out a small sample of the local restaurant scene (Fine Food in Honolulu). I love the simplicity and freshness of raw fish in its myriad forms whether called sashimi, crudo or carpaccio, marinated as in ceviche, or dressed with other ingredients as in poke, so my eyes inevitably sought out the sashimi options on the menus. At home one of my favorite sashimi choices has always been hamachi, usually called yellowtail here.

What a great way to end a fun birthday day … Fresh from a 3 hour Hustle workshop (think Saturday Night Fever! but not the line dance), I strolled along the False Creek sea wall to a small restaurant overlooking the water, to share tapas and wine with friends and listen to cool jazz.  

I love eating the grilled fish from the fresh fish sheet at Sandbar so it is crazy that the memory that sticks with me from our Mothers' Day dinner was not the perfectly cooked Alderwood-grilled, miso-marinated Sablefish, but the potatoes that I got as a substitute for the regular rice accompaniment. The sablefish was delicious but it was the texture and smoothness of the potatoes that kept me having just one more bite, till - so much for my carb-restricted eating plan - my plate was empty.

Taramasalata, the piquant fish roe dish, is a favorite Greek meze of mine, and one of the tastiest versions I have had was at the Estiatorio Milos in Las Vegas. So when I discovered that the New York Estiatorio Milos was a short walk from the Manhattan Movement and Dance Center where we were to attend the Dance Gallery Festival Best of 10 Show and Gala, that was my first choice for a pre-show dinner.

At the 12th Annual ChefmeetsBCGrape event, 9 of BC's top restaurant chefs created small plates, each paired with a BC wine for the sipping and supping pleasure of the very large crowd in attendance. As well there were 80 different wineries offering tastings. Jointly hosted by the British Columbia Wine Institute and the Arts Club Theatre Company this was a fund-raiser for the Arts Club.

To entertain a visitor from Calgary who, like a true Albertan, enjoys a great steak, I chose the Hamilton Street Grill for dinner. It's a ten minute walk from my downtown apartment but on searching my reviews, it has been quite a while since I dined there.

Thanks to my friend hearing that on Sunday evenings Cabrito features flamenco music, we set off to Commercial Drive on a cold rainy night to try this new restaurant. We were so glad we did because the food was excellent, the service warm and friendly and we enjoyed the music.

Yesterday I faced down another fear and crossed a challenge off my "to conquer" list. I realize that those hardy souls who commute daily for an hour or more to get to work will think I am a real wimp but honestly the last time I set off  to drive solo to a distant destination was about twenty years ago... and that journey ended in a minor catastrophe from which I was saved by a gang of Hells Angel's bikers. That's a story for a later post.

I have never been partial to deep crust pizzas or pizzas with a thick doughy crust but thin crust pizza or flatbreads with interesting topping combinations make for a light, quick and easy-to-share meal.

Serving brunch seven days a week  from 8 AM to 4 PM weekdays and from 9 AM on weekends! For many restaurants 10 or 11 AM signals the "mandatory" time for switching from breakfast menu to lunch menu. So I was impressed when I learned that I could order an omelette even though I was only meeting my friend for lunch at Catch 122 at 1:45 PM. And the omelette I ordered turned out to be something special...

The Culmina Family Estate Winery in Oliver in the beautiful South Okanagan Valley was founded by Don and Elaine Triggs with their daughter Sara, in 2007. A year earlier,  the well-known Jackson-Triggs Winery founded by Allan Jackson and Don Triggs had been sold to Vincor International. As Don quipped "he was not a golfer and retirement didn't suit him" and he wanted to get back to the wine making that he was so passionate about.

Since I seldom eat breakfast out on weekdays and my mid-morning meetings tend to be at coffee shops rather than at full service restaurants, I didn't know that Provence Marinaside serves breakfasts.  But searching for a location in walking distance from home, with a water view for a celebratory and farewell breakfast with family, I found out that Provence Marinaside is open from from 8 am to 10:30 pm and has a great breakfast menu.

Wine and chocolate is an irresistible combination and I couldn't resist the temptation to go back for another salted caramel chocolate at the Apothic Wines event. The event was held at one of Vancouver 's newest nightclubs, Twelve West on Granville Street which bills itself as an elite night life venue. I've often noticed the line ups to get in, while I am walking home from dance classes in the evening but have until now not had the occasion to go into the venue.

A professional ballerina turned professional chef, who has just authored a cookbook in which Vanilla is the star! That announcement hit three of my hot buttons - dance, cuisine and my favorite flavour and aroma, vanilla. And as someone who turned to working in the arts after a thirty years in science, I was fascinated to learn about how and why a ballerina of 30 years duration became a chef. 

Vanilla - a lush sweet aroma and flavour that inevitably entices me to indulge in more sweet or frozen desserts, cakes and chocolates than I probably should. It's hard to resist those sweet treats.  But I hadn't thought much about vanilla in the context of a savoury dish, until I saw a listing of recipes from Natasha MacAller's Vanilla Table.

The 2015 Eat! Vancouver Food and Cooking Festival at BC Place May 1st to  3rd, kicks off with the Canadian Flavours Gala at the Terminal Club on Thursday, April 30th.

The pre-show dinner I enjoyed at Heirloom Vegetarian restaurant may have just changed my attitude about vegetarian cuisine. Enjoying fish and shellfish, meats, specially charcuterie, and having an aversion to the texture of many  grains and beans I have tended to avoid places serving only vegetarian foods.

The Settlement Building on Dunlevy Street in the Railtown district east of Gastown, is home to the Vancouver Urban Winery and the Belgard Kitchen, as well as Fresh Tap, Postmark Brewing and the Roaring Twenties Wine Co.

We chose Javier's Cantina & Grill at Irvine Spectrum for a double birthday  celebration. We arrived quite early, five adults plus two kids, converging on the restaurant directly from work and after-school programs, all of us very hungry.

A rich lobster bisque and a creamy mushroom soup are my two favorite soups so my natural first choice on the BRIO Tuscan Grille restaurant week lunch menu was the lobster bisque. I was pleased to see that the restaurant week menu featured items on the regular menu.

Breakfast at the Original Pancake House was the choice of the youngest member of the family as the best way to celebrate his recent achievement. When we arrived at the restaurant around 9:30 on a Sunday morning it was packed, and patiently-waiting patrons were spilling out onto the pavement to soak up the welcome sunshine. Although we were initially told there would be a lengthy wait, it was actually only a few minutes before a table was cleared and we were seated.

The Kobe Japanese Steak and Seafood House with its knife-twirling chefs and teppanyaki grills has been an iconic Vancouver restaurant  since 1968.

The 2015 Wellness Show at the Vancouver Convention Centre as usual had a plethora of interesting booths and exhibits. I was quite hungry when I arrived after two hours of dance lessons, an hour working through Franklin Method techniques and then a walk down to the Convention Centre.

With four of our SASSYs out of town, checking out the gorillas tribes in Ruanda, enjoying sunshine in Maui or cuddling a new grandson in Alberta, five of us gathered together to taste wine and new cheeses, and try out a fun board game I found during my Christmas gift buying explorations.

Wanting a light pre-show supper, protein-based with flavourful fresh salads or vegetables, we chose Portobello Restaurant before going to see Underneath the Lintel at Pacific Theatre. Our needs were perfectly satisfied though we had to conscientously (and sadly) decline their delicious bread.

Among our family dine-outs over the holidays, a dinner at Black+ Blue Restaurant was an unexpected stand-out. Normally appreciating the high quality of the Glowbal Group's local restaurants, we were surprised by a sequence of negative reviews of Black+ Blue Restaurant on a popular bar-and-restaurant guide and decided to check it out for ourselves.

Until now, despite rave reviews about the food from friends who live in the neighborhood and frequent this cantina, I have foolishly avoided joining them for fear that I would be subjected to dishes flavoured with the dreaded cilantro. But finally others in our group planned a dinner there and I joined them.

After a busy day exploring the North Vegas Outlet Mall we decided to wander down Fremont Street and try the highly recommended Joe Vicari's Andiamo Italian Steakhouse at the D Casino Hotel. I was hoping to enjoy a spontaneous fine dining experience to review for my dining and tourism travelblogue, Take a Bite of Las Vegas. We figured that at 5:30 in the afternoon we could get a table without a reservation - but no. 

We humans are a wonderfully diverse species. Just think of the different languages and cultures that have evolved in different parts of the world. One aspect I find especially fascinating is the question of taste.

For example I have a strong aversion to whole olives, yet I enjoy tasting different olive oils. On the other hand I love anchovies on pizza  – a choice that causes some of my friends to throw up their hands in disgust and order a plain pizza margherita with only tomatoes, mozzarella and basil.

Nobu Las Vegas restaurant in the Nobu Hotel located within Caesar's Palace is the largest of the 31 Nobu restaurants located round the world from Dallas to Dubai but we were still not sure of being able to be seated when we spontaneously decided to eat there.

A single thin crust pizza accompanied by two fresh salads was the perfect quantity of food for three petite gals to share  for a casual supper before a movie.

Wine tasting with the SASSYS is always fun, unpredictable and often surprising. We all like wine, drink socially but never to excess.  None among us claim to have palates discerning enough to distinguish a hint of gooseberry from a touch of mango but we all know what we like and don't like.  So although we follow the standard tasting procedures, our tastings are more fun than formal and the  primary point of our wine tastings is to decide whether or not we like the wine, find it good value  and would choose it again.

Eating the most tender duck confit at a little cafe in the Mirepoix market while on a food-writing course in France almost 8 years ago remains one of my favorite food memories. I have heard great things about the duck confit at Les Faux Bourgeois and this French restaurant has been on my dining wish list for a while. Until now I have not got there but on the evening we were going to see Wide Awake Hearts at the Little Mountain Gallery theatre just off Main street, I managed to get an early dinner reservation for three of us.

As the strains of a Verdi aria filled the air of St. Mark's Square, it was easy to imagine that we were seated at a open air café hearing a gondolier sing as he punted his gondola through the waters of a canal in Venice. But we were not in Venice, just having lunch in the Palazzo along the Grand Canal of  the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas.

Footsore after a full day of exploring lavish lobbies and displays but exhilarated after our panoramic view of Las Vegas from 550 ft in the air on the High Roller, we were famished as we approached the Mirage Hotel, our last planned stop for the day.

It was not just the fresh contemporary style food but service beyond our expectations that made our dining at Sensi an experience to remember. Laurence, our server, was bubbling over with enthusiasm about the menu as he handed us an IPad loaded with pictures and descriptions of drink and dessert options. We each ordered a glass of the Woollaston Sauvignon Blanc 2012. From the Nelson wine district in New Zealand, just west of Marlborough, the wine had the unmistakable grassy, herbaceous aroma with an excellent balance of acidity with tropical fruit flavors.

The subtle sweetness of caramelized yam, scallion and garlic blended into a rich, thick creamy soup was my choice for a hearty start to a Thanksgiving lunch.  Canadian Thanksgiving was over 6 weeks ago and today it is the USA that celebrates.

Only the bright neon sign above the entrance hints that behind the non-descript strip mall doorway  is a restaurant that, according to locals, serves up some of the best Thai food in Las Vegas.  Lucky for us, at the FoodFightWrite 2014 conference, we met up with a Las Vegas friend who writes on SouthEastAsia Cuisine locally and  abroad. For our last dinner before departing Las Vegas early next morning, she took us to Lotus of Siam, one of her favorite local restaurants.

A Las Vegas visitor looking for a casual dining spot in the downtown area would likely pass by the logo-free store front of Carson Kitchen with no idea that inside fresh, wholesome food was being served up.

The aroma of warm sour dough bread with embedded slivers of caramelized onion, rising from the white napkin-covered basket compelled me to erase all thoughts of a bread-free dinner. Lightly buttered, the fresh airy slice tasted as good as its aroma promised, and kept me content while I decided on my dinner choices.

When seeing a play at the little Havana theatre tucked into the space just behind the Havana restaurant and bar, I like to get there early and indulge in some good Cuban cuisine.

Conveniently located just steps away from the two Granville Island Arts Club Theatre venues, Edible Canada at the Market is a perfect spot for a  pre-show meal, specially on a cold rainy Vancouver night. We were seeing Blue Box at the Revue Stage and opted to have supper at Edible Canada before the show..

 On a recent too-short visit to Honolulu for a dance competition I decided that the best use of my few free dining opportunities would be to visit some of Honolulu's most highly recommended restaurants in and near the neighbourhood of Waikiki. My picks for dinner were La Mer at the Halekulani Hotel and the Beachhouse at the Moana Surfrider, both a short walk from the Sheraton Waikiki which was the host hotel for the competition;  and Hoku's  at the Kahala Hotel and Resort, a short taxi-ride away. I also managed to enjoy a lunch at the Surf Lanai at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. The links in this post will take you to my review for each restaurant.

The Kahala Hotel is a luxury resort in the Kahala district of Honolulu, about a twenty  minute taxi ride from the hotel where we were staying in Waikiki. Hoku's is one of about five dining options at the hotel, and offers innovative fusion food melding Hawaiian, Asian and European influences.